Schools will reopen on Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed today.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing this afternoon, Johnson said that the government’s five tests are all being met.
Johnson said closing schools has “deprived children of their education” with “the most disadvantaged who risk being hardest hit”.
He said they will “start putting this right in a safe way”. That will include primary schools reopening for pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6.
Secondary schools will start offering face-to-face contact from June 15.
However chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said today the R value is still somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9 – which means it “remains close to 1 and may be very close to 1 in some areas”.
He warned the country still has a “significant burden of infection and is still seeing new infections every day at quite a significant rate. That means there is not a lot of room to do things, and things have to be done cautiously, step by step, and monitored” with a “test and trace system effective to monitor that”.
Johnson also said: “I have to warn you in all frankness as we go forward that there will be further local outbreaks so we will monitor what is going on very carefully, we will put on the brakes as required and where necessary we will reimpose measures.”
The government has today launched a national track and trace system. However there are reports it won’t be fully operational at a local level until the end of next month.
The school reopening plans have been resisted by unions over safety concerns.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union said the decision “flies in the face” of the government’s duty to “protect all of us during this frightening and difficult time”.
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said while the argument over whether this is the right thing to do will “doubtlessly continue to rage”, he said it’s “important now is that we all get behind our schools and support them in this very challenging situation”.
He said there are “significant logistical issues involved, including constraints on the physical space in schools, and the availability of staff, given that some will be self-isolating or in vulnerable categories.”
This means there will be a “great deal of variability in how many parents send their children into schools” and how schools deal with this based on local circumstances.
“We urge everybody to understand this is an extraordinary situation and to respect the decisions that are made by schools,” Barton added.
Under the system, local authorities will and public health teams will help identify and respond to localised outbreaks of coronavirus.
Johnson this week conceded it may not be possible for all schools to reopen on June 1. He said the government will “support and work with the sector” to ensure any schools experienced difficulties are able to open more widely “as soon as possible”.
A poll of teachers found they mostly felt nervous and confused about reopening. The Teacher Tapp survey also found a quarter of primary teachers expected at least half of pupils eligible to return would actually stay at home.